Hazel Wells tried for years to avoid using the Internet. Navigating the Web seemed so complicated and intimidating, she said. But now, Wells has her own e-mail address, and with the help of volunteers from the Pasco County Library System, Wells is becoming a bit more comfy with computers.
"To me, this is exciting," said Wells, 62.
With the help of a federal grant, folks from the Pasco County Library System set up 10 Internet-ready laptop computers at a tiny community center, footsteps from Wells' Trilby home.
For three hours on Tuesdays, library staffers are there to help residents securely hunt for jobs, check e-mail and apply online for government assistance. They even offer online tutorials to learn basic computer programs, at no charge. Some weeks, representatives from the Pasco County Health Department, Premier Health Services and United Way are on hand to offer services, too.
Library officials say computer and Internet access is a much-needed service in Trilby. The closest library offering computers for public use is about 8 miles away in Dade City. And for some in Trilby, their only transportation is the county bus.
"The goal of the grant is to bring technology to those who generally don't have access," said Nancy Fredericks, the library system's E-government service manager. "We use the census data to determine areas to target where income and education levels are low and there's a lack of transportation and Internet services."
All 10 computers sat empty for nearly two hours Tuesday until Wells walked in. Even though it was Wells' first time there, volunteers excitedly greeted her by name.
She heard of the computer program because she eats lunch next door at a church that offers a free meal to seniors. Wells had taken a few computer courses at the local library in the past.
"I've been practicing (on computers) because I need this … for my future," Wells said as she sat clicking the mouse. "It's right here at my door, so I want to take advantage of it."
The Greater Trilby Community Association building has become a hub for neighbors in the area. Even when the library computers get packed up and taken away, a small team of volunteers lends their pair of desktops to those who need it for job-hunting. People drop in requesting food from a makeshift pantry. A few used books are available for kids to borrow. On Tuesday, one volunteer was busy scrounging up a clean pair of pants for a homeless man.
Fredericks and her team hope more people take advantage of the computer access before the program ends Dec. 21.
"It's very rewarding for us to go out and bring services to people," Fredericks said.